Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure, romance, humor

This was my first reading of Goldman’s “good parts version” of the S. Morgenstern classic. I’ve seen the movie, of course, enough times to appreciate how similar it is to the book, and the following review will include some comparisons. Overall, I liked the book, though it did have some downsides for me. In fact, I almost called it quits in the first chapter. Fortunately, I stuck with it, and really enjoyed the book once it took off.

I’ll start with what I liked. Both Inigo and Fezzik had full backstories that I thought at first would be dry to read about, but I was wrong! They gave those characters so much more depth. In fact, there’s more information giving in a lot of areas (not surprising when a book is turned into a movie, even when done well). Humperdinck is even more villainous than he is in the movie, the Zoo of Death being quite dark and a great setting for The Machine. To be honest, I don’t know what I would have thought about the book if I had read it before seeing the movie, since I’m sure some of what made it more enjoyable was having the well-chosen actors in mind when reading.

The story-within-a-story framework for this book is quite inventive. I’m sure Goldman fooled (and possibly still fools) many people into believing that there really was an original book written by S. Morgenstern that he then abridged. The fictional version of himself that he puts into the story, though, is pretty terrible. I struggled through the intro section in which he explains how he tried to track down the original book for his son, due mostly to the fact that during that part, he calls his son fat, blames his wife for his son being fat, and wants us to know how much he wants to cheat on his wife. Boy, am I glad the framework in the movie is just a kid and his grandpa. Then we get into the book and there’s so much focus on physical looks regarding Buttercup and other women for so many pages, after how disheartening the intro was…I put the book down and told my husband (who strongly wanted me to read it, whose favorite movie is The Princess Bride, and who also really liked the book when he read it some time ago) that I didn’t think I could go on. But I did. And I’m really glad I did. The book is really fun overall, but when I go back and read it again someday, I may start at chapter 2.

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Book Review: Terror from Outer Space

Terror from Outer Space
Last Chance Detectives #4
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

Have aliens landed in the desert? Though the report may be unbelievable, Sheriff Smitty can’t deny that something strange is going on, especially when he has his own frightening encounter. It’s up to Mike, Winnie, Spence, and Ben, the Last Chance Detectives, to investigate, but they won’t like what they find.

Overall, this was another solid addition to the series, with some exciting scenes and a hard, but important, lesson of faith learned by Mike. The mystery was predictable to me, but younger readers will be much less likely to guess what’s going on. If I’d been in Winnie’s shoes in this story, I probably would have passed out, or at least been found curled up on the floor crying.

Speaking of Winnie, it’s much more obvious in this book that she’s not as well developed as her three friends. The other three have a line or two explaining what they bring to the group at the beginning of the story. Mike’s confidence makes him a natural leader, Spence is clever and inventive, even Ben is said to provide fun and out-of-the-box thinking. There’s literally nothing, not even a minor attempt, made to show Winnie’s contribution to the group, and thinking about the 3 books in this series I’ve read in the last few days, I couldn’t tell you what it was either. She’s just…there.

This is the first new story to come out in a series from the 90s, and while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the 2 originals that I recently read, I do still recommend this book for those around age 10-14.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: October 5, 2021

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Book Review: Escape from Fire Lake

Escape from Fire Lake
Last Chance Detectives #3
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure

When Mike Fowler stumbles across bank robbers making a getaway, he becomes an accidental hostage. Unwilling to let him point the finger at them, the thieves leave him for dead in the middle of the desert. Can Mike make it to civilization before succumbing to the sun in Fire Lake?

Wow! For a short book meant for kids, this was quite an intense ride! Unlike the first book in the series, this one was completely new to me, and it really sucked me in. Mike’s trek through the desert, trying not to give in to the sun or his own worries, was really suspenseful and kept me hooked all throughout. At the same time, the other Last Chance Detectives are looking for him, and that part is interesting too. Whereas children’s books can sometimes venture away from reality, in that the kids in the story do things that kids wouldn’t really be able to do in real life, I felt like all of it was quite plausible in this case.

Though there wasn’t any kind of mystery in this story, at least not to the reader, it was still full of adventure and great lessons about relying on God and letting Him give you peace in scary situations. Again the danger is very real, but it doesn’t get to be what I’d consider too scary for kids, and I highly recommend this book for those around 10-14.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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**Note: This book has been out since 1996, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa

Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
Last Chance Detectives #1
by Jake & Luke Thoene

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

It started with a cryptic radio transmission that led to Ben seeing some green lights in the desert. But his friends, the other Last Chance Detectives, Mike, Winnie, and Spence, aren’t sure his story of UFOs in the desert is believable. Still, there’s obviously something going on out there, so it’s time to investigate!

This was a fast-paced adventure with a realistic feel to it. The kids are friends but still have arguments, one of which led to the adventure in the first place. I liked the small-town setting that goes even further into a feeling of remoteness due to being surrounded by vast desert. Though I wasn’t as baffled as Ben was when the sheriff didn’t corroborate what he saw, readers of the age group for which the book is intended will likely get swept up into the adventure and intrigue. The stakes are high and the danger is real, but nothing too intense for kids around 10-14, for whom I highly recommend this book.

I watched the movie many times in my teenage years (we only owned this one, though, so I’ve never seen/read any others in the series). I didn’t expect to remember as much as I did when I read the book. A few lines I could even hear the characters saying in my head. It was a really fun way to re-visit my childhood, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie again too (and reading/watching the rest of the series)!

Clarification: I didn’t read the version shown in the picture above, which is the original based on the movie that came out in 1994. I own the older book and had intended to read it soon, but hadn’t yet when I saw that it was being re-released, along with at least 1 other in the series and 2 new ones that I can see. For this review, I read the new release version, which does have some differences from the original.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
**Note: This book has been out since 1994, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: Independence Hall

Independence Hall
I, Q #1
by Roland Smith

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela are thrust into the world of espionage when Angela is told that her mother, who had died 4 years previous, might not actually be dead. But if she’s alive, she may also be a deadly terrorist. And now it appears that someone may be after Angela, but she and Q aren’t sure who they can trust.

Spy thrillers aren’t really my thing, but I really enjoyed this one written for teens and pre-teens. There were quite a few twists along the way, no one is quite who they seem to be, and even the bad guys weren’t just bad guys. I second-guessed a lot of what I was shown during the bulk of the book, and of course it’s not the most realistic thing that these two teenagers are being caught up in this plot. However, the author does a decent job of at least making it plausible. And I really like the way they do whatever they can not to ruin things for their newlywed parents, who have recently made it big in the music industry.

My husband brought home the first 3 books in this series of 6 without knowing anything about it, thinking I might enjoy it. It took me quite a while to get to it, and I was really unsure how I’d like it. However, now I’m sad I only have 3 of the 6 (though the rest are available at my local library), because I am looking forward to seeing how this all turns out! I would recommend this for younger readers who want something exciting or thrilling, or even adults who don’t necessarily care for adult spy thrillers but enjoy a good adventure story.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket

Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #5
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Mr. Lemoncello’s game-making factory is in Hudson Hills, NY, and recently a new, top-secret building was added to the grounds. Now it’s time for another game, for the first time taking place outside of Ohio, with competitors from Hudson Hills. The playing field is inside that new building, and the prize is a titanium ticket, one of multiple that will eventually be awarded. But the real prize, what the ticket gives its holder a chance at, is the biggest one yet!

Each book after the first in this series got a little less exciting for me. A little less interesting, a little less fresh. In this fifth book, all of the excitement from the first one came rushing back. It’s different and fun again. Not that some of the formula the series has developed isn’t there, but it feels new again. It helps a lot that we step away from the Ohio kids and meet some brand new ones. Kyle makes an appearance, but he’s just a side character. And the new MC, Simon, is different in a lot of ways.

There are several things that happen in the story that caused me to mentally cheer. I so wish I could expand on that at all, but I’ll just say that there were some great moments. I love the friendship that’s formed in the story and the way that whole thing turns out. And I really love how Simon’s personal story came to fruition.

The titanium ticket angle was a little predictable, and it’s a little frustrating to have another Charles Chiltington-type character, though this new one (Jack) is different in many ways too. I suppose some of that might just be the genre and intended age group. But those very minor issues aren’t even worth a partial-point detraction for me, and I am happy to highly recommend this book to kids around 8-12 years old, as well as others who are interested in this type of book. While I did feel the last few books in the series weren’t quite as good, I would suggest reading it all up to this point. And based on the ending, it’s clear that this series isn’t over yet.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game

Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #4
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

If Kyle Keeley and his team thought the previous Lemoncello game was big, they haven’t seen anything yet. The next competition Kyle’s hero has dreamed up will be broadcast live on national television! And the winners will get to choose one from their team to be the host of a new kids’ game show, while the rest of the team are the first contestants. It’s game on as Kyle is up against his nemesis Charles Chiltington and some other competitors that will be tough to beat.

These books are beginning to become a bit formulaic, which is probably not good for this type of book. Kyle almost can’t compete for some reason, and then he can. Kyle/his team stops normal game play to solve some side mystery/issue. Spoiler: Kyle/his team wins almost by default because all or most of the other kids/teams were disqualified or gave up or joined Kyle’s team. Considering how much I loved the first book, I want to continue enjoying this series. But it’s starting to become repetitive and just silly. I did like the game, putting the kids into their own fictional stories in a way like holodecks work in Star Trek shows. Who of us hasn’t wanted to be able to do that? I still miss the more escape room, puzzle-y nature of the first book, though. There was a tiny bit of that again here, with 5 locks to open per team, but the puzzles, riddles, etc. that gave the codes were a lot lighter this time around.

I really appreciated that the game forced the kids (or at least Kyle) to see the “bad guy” in a new light. I only wish a little more had come from that. The thing that bugged me the most as I read this book was the dialog. I don’t know if this is new to this book, or if I simply didn’t notice it before, but all of the kids seem to talk the same way, in a particular format that I began to find grating. I won’t take the time to explain what I mean, because it seems really petty, but it happened enough that it started to bring the rest of the story down for me. And seriously…the TV-star kids were just over-the-top silly and ridiculous in their shticks.

I wonder if maybe they wouldn’t feel so formulaic if I wasn’t reading through them so quickly. It’s hard to know. I also want to stress that this book is meant for kids around 8-12 years old, and the things that bother me may well not be noticeable to them. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous ones, and I think that’s important to remember.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #3
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

After a grand escape game and a library-fied version of the Olympics, Mr. Lemoncello brings his favorite 12-year-olds (though I’d guess some are probably 13 by now) a game that sends teams on a much grander adventure–across town in bookmobiles and across states in his banana jet. But trouble is afoot when Kyle’s team uncovers evidence that Mr. Lemoncello plagiarized his very first game. Will his newly honed research skills be enough to clear his hero’s name?

After loving the first book in the series and enjoying the second one as well, this one didn’t seem quite as good in the end. The required suspension of disbelief is much higher in this one, both because these kids are allowed to take private jets to other states and even NYC without any real adult supervision, and because my past observation of most of the kids just being over-the-top knowledgeable was ramped up in this one. Not only do some of these kids know just about every juvenile book ever written, plus have an extensive knowledge of the Dewey decimal system that they can mentally search whenever needed, but now some of those same kids know vast amounts of information about historical events and figures like the Wright brothers’ first flight. It’s all just a bit too much to swallow.

I did still like the puzzles and riddles along the way, though. I enjoy being able to solve some of the clues along with the kids, though that was certainly lighter in this one. The more of these grand-scale games Mr. Lemoncello dreams up, the bigger they seem to have to be, which is somewhat understandable from a fiction stand-point, but seems like it’ll be difficult to sustain. And strangely, while the game itself is grander, the prize is…considerably less so, though that might just be from an adult’s perspective.

The mystery that came up in the latter half of the book and stalled the great game was interesting, as it was quite the reflection of the way the general public will believe nearly anything if they’re given a convincing enough presentation, no matter if the facts back it up or not. Parts of the mystery were predictable, parts not so much, and in the end, while I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did the first two, I know that the things that brought it down the most for me are going to be more noticeable to an adult than the age group the book is meant for. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous two, and I think it’s safe to recommend it for kids around 8-12.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #2
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

After their big win in Mr. Lemoncello’s escape game, Team Keeley is challenged by basically every kid in the country. They all want their chance at stardom (starring in commercials for Mr. Lemoncello games) and are unhappy that the contest was so localized. So Mr. Lemoncello grants them their wish, because hey, that means he gets to create more games! The top teams in each region of the country are chosen and invited to Ohio to compete for full college scholarships–against Kyle’s team. The only problem is that Kyle isn’t so sure he’s up to the challenge this time.

After the pure fun I had with the first book, I knew this wouldn’t be able to be quite the same. For one thing, it’s not so much with the escape room aspect anymore. There are puzzles involved in the games, but it’s not nearly the same as it was in the first book. However, it’s still a fun read, and even has a bit of mystery. So while I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I did the first book in the series, it was still good.

For all the similarities to Willy Wonka in the first book, this had even more. Including a particular bit that I guessed at from early on, comparing a character to a role in Roald Dahl’s book. Even still, though, the book did keep me guessing a bit as I waited to see if I was right. And unlike the “justice” in Wonka’s world, it’s nice to see some of the “bad” kids have a change of heart by the end of this book.

In my review of the first book, I mentioned that it was unrealistic how much knowledge some of these kids have–Kyle is about the only one who doesn’t come across like he lives and breathes books and studying. That was much more noticeable this time. Still overall, it’s a good book, fun for kids, and I continue to recommend it for kids around 8-12 and for parents, especially those who like games.

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Book Review: The Return of the King

The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings #3
by J.R.R. Tolkien
read by Rob Inglis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of the other books in this series, this is going to be less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. This is my first time through the trilogy, and I’m listening to the audiobooks, because I don’t think I’d make it through if I was reading. Also to reiterate–I have watched the movies several times, though it’s now been a few years since I last did so. And keep in mind, there may be some slight spoilers ahead.

So first, let me just say that wow, was I surprised when the ring was destroyed so early in the book! Seriously, does anyone get away with pacing like that these days? I understand a lot more now why the film had so many “endings,” which never bothered me like it did some others. It’s not hard to see how such an epic tale is owed so much wrap-up. But to see that the movies actually toned down the amount of story that took place after the climax was a surprise. And while I could have done without the storyline with Eowyn and Faramir, overall, I didn’t hate all of that follow-up like I expected to. The story of the hobbits taking back the Shire was interesting and gave a culmination for a major character that, when last seen, had become weak and whiny. I’d say maybe Tolkien should have kept this story for another book or appendix, but to be honest, I may not have read it then. So I can’t really complain about the length of the book after the climax. It’s still strange, though.

And in a related note, the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen, which is a huge deal in the movies (maybe too huge) is mostly shown in an appendix, as I understand it. So without reading that, it’s pretty lacking for me. Maybe someday I will, but I’m going to let Middle Earth sit for a while right now.

One more thing–I know a lot of people see Eowyn as a great example of a strong female character. In some ways, yes, she’s strong and determined. But I think I would have admired her more if she had chosen to stay behind. She essentially states that she has sworn to rule Rohan in place of those who are going to war, but seems to simply decide she’s tired of doing so. And she assumes that she was left to do so only because she was a woman. Whether or not that last part is true, I think the important factor here is that she agreed to it, and then decided to leave her homeland anyway. To me, honesty and integrity are more important than showing that women can do as much as men can. But yes, good did come of the action she chose, and if nothing else, it shows her as a real, flawed character.

I find it interesting that the 2nd book in the series was my favorite of the 3, even while I’m pretty sure it was my least favorite of the movies (though I did still like it plenty). I don’t think I’ll ever appreciate these books or the author as much as the diehard Tolkien fans do. However, I do anticipate re-reading these books more than once in the future (probably still as audiobooks, but who knows) and picking up something new each time.

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